Mongolia: investigation into woman human rights defender & environmentalist, Sukgherel Dugersuren (joint communication)

The following is based on a communication written by the UN Special Rapporteur on Human Rights Defenders and other UN experts to the Government of Mongolia on 6 September 2022. The communication remained confidential for 60 days before being made public. The Government sent a short reply on 2 November 2022, confirming the investigation is ongoing. The Special Rapporteur has called for the case to be closed.

This is a shorter version of the original communication. Please note: the human rights defender’s name and details are redacted in the official communication. Ms. Sukgherel Dugersuren has since given the Special Rapporteur permission to be named publicly.

Read the full communication Read the Govenment's response

BACKGROUND

Topic: threat of arrest of woman human rights defender Ms. Sukgherel Dugersuren.

Ms. Sukgherel Dugersuren is a woman human rights defender and environmentalist. She is a member of an organisation which is accredited to the United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification. She also supports an organisation which gathers together over 30 environmental NGOs and experts from Russia, Mongolia, the US and China, dedicated to preserving the health of transboundary river basins in north-east Eurasia through joint advocacy and promoting best practices in river management.

Ms. Sukgherel Dugersuren has for years been engaged in monitoring the human rights and environmental impact of corporate activity in Mongolia, with a focus on the extractive sector, promoting greater transparency and consultation, and ensuring adherence to environmental protection standards.

ALLEGATIONS

Background

Power Construction Corporation of China (Power China), with funding from China Exim-Bank, has been contracted to build the Erdeneburen Hydropower Reservoir on the Khovd River in western Mongolia. Around 270 nomadic pastoralists (112 families) have objected to development of the project on the grounds that it would flood their land and pastures, and in late 2021 and early 2022, these herders carried out a number of protests to express their concerns, including in the capital Ulaanbaatar. Ms. Sukgherel Dugersuren the Rivers Without Boundaries International Coalition, and other human rights defenders engaged with the local herders assisted them in transmitting their concerns to Power China and the China Exim-Bank. The herders also transmitted their concerns to the Chinese embassy in Mongolia.

In April 2022, the commencement of the Erdeneburen project was reportedly postponed, with Power China asking the Mongolian authorities to resolve the concerns of the affected communities. The project had previously been delayed due to concerns of its negative impacts being raised with the Chinese authorities.

On 3 June 2022, Ms. Sukgherel Dugersuren published an opinion piece online arguing against progressing with the Erdeneburen Hydropower Reservoir due to the threats its development would pose to local communities and wetlands. On 24 July 2022, an article appeared in an online German media outlet alleging that the Rivers Without Boundaries coalition, its international coordinator Mr. Evgeny Simonov and Ms. Sukgherel Dugersuren were being used by the Russian state to sabotage Mongolia’s efforts to break free of energy dependence on Russia.

Notwithstanding the allegations of complicity with the Russian government, the article also noted that Mr. Simonov, a Russian national, was himself declared a foreign agent by the Russian authorities in October 2021. This article was translated into Mongolian and republished on a number of Mongolian websites.

Mr Simonov was the subject of a previous communication addressed to your Excellency’s government in November 2015, following his alleged deportation from Mongolia (MNG 1/2015).

Concerning Ms. Sukgherel Dugersuren

On 2 August 2022, Ms. Sukgherel Dugersuren was formally notified by the Government Investigation Agency that she was being placed under investigation on suspicion of violating Article 19.4 of the Criminal Code, namely, “Illegal cooperation with [a] foreign intelligence agency [or] agent”.

In the following days, Ms. Sukgherel Dugersurenwas subjected to a vilification campaign online which labelled her a ‘traitor’ and a ‘Russian spy’. Such smears came in response to a post made on social media by the UN Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders wherein she expressed her concern about the risk of arrest to Ms. Sukgherel Dugersuren.

On 3 August 2022, the Minister of Justice and Internal Affairs of Mongolia, H. Nyambaatar stated at a press conference that the Government had taken the decision to establish a task force to investigate anyone “intentionally disrupting Mongolia’s strategic development projects” and that “actions that are interrupted by a civil society organization or a person in the name of the community” should be investigated for sabotage (article 19.6 of the Criminal Code).

CONCERNS

In the communication we expressed our serious concern regarding the alleged investigation into, and harassment of, Ms. Sukgherel Dugersuren. We are further concerned by the decision of the Mongolian Government to potentially criminalise peaceful protest and expression by stating it will investigate people ‘interfering’ with development projects on ‘sabotage’ charges.

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